It has become increasingly clear to me through the course of both this class and my current project that there is very clear tension between opinions on the real world vs. cyberspace. The fact that we continue to make this distinction is even a matter of contention for some. The heart of the matter is that as the Internet becomes more and more integrated into our lives, the blurrier the line between cyberspace and the real world becomes.
Lawrence Lessig discusses this tension and the questions that arise and consequences that could occur because of it in his book Code 2.0. He notes that we want (at least now) cyberspace to be like the real world; however, it’s becoming clearer that this is a limit that may soon become nonexistent. In the real world, we abide (or not) by social norms, physical laws placed on us because of the nature of being human or because of the government regulations respective of our geographical location. Most of us behave a certain way (or at least viewed that we should act a certain way) because of these laws that we have very little control over or will take a great deal of time and effort to change.
In cyberspace, however, it is a new enough world, so to speak, that none of these laws that we have in the physical world can be in place or be as effective if we do try to enact them. In cyberspace, “the law is the code” by which that particular space has been organized. Unlike the months it takes Congress to develop or change a policy, if there is something in cyberspace that needs to be changed, it only takes an instant to change the code, or that law. But, Lessig points out that this ease in changing code could lead to other problems with those that interact inside cyberspace, not just with those that are in the real world that want to control/regulate cyberspace.
Lessig illustrates this with a story about how two “neighbors” in an online world had a conflict (one that could just as easily come up in the real world) and how both brought up solutions to their conflict that involved changing the laws (code) as they existed at that moment:
Problems can be programmed or “coded” into the story, and they can be “coded” away. And while the experience with gamers so far is that they don’t want virtual worlds to deviate too far from the real, the important point for now is that there is the capacity to make these worlds different. It is this capacity that raises the question that is at the core of this book: What does it mean to live in a world where problems can be coded away? And when, in that world, should we code problems away, rather than learn to work them out, or punish those who cause them? (p. 15)
This is a point that Carl Sunstein made, which I discussed on my blog last week, about how we are not being forced to confront things online like we would have to in the real world. If we can just as easily “code away” our problems, rather than work them out or punish the “troublemakers,” how does that then translate how we behave in the real world, if we continue to make this distinction.
In the second story that Lessig brings up, he mentions how difficult it is to regulate cyberspace using the tools we normal have in the real world. He mentions that a very popular author, Jake, of rather disturbing stories published online was arrested and tried in the real world because of them:
It is impossibly difficult to look across the range of Jake-like characters and not think that, at some point, the virtual has crossed over into something real. Or, at least, the virtual has real effects–either on those who live it, or on those who live with them…. The Net enables lives that were previously impossible, or inconvenient, or uncommon. At least some of those virtual lives will have effects on non-virtual lives–both the lives of the people living in the virtual space, and the lives of those around them (p. 20).
So while at the moment we continue to make the distinction between your online and offline self, it is clear that both still effect each other and those around you. And with the growing popularity of social media, your online and offline self are quickly becoming one and the same, and even multiple versions of them. But however you live your life, either in the real world or in cyberspace, it will still effect you in both and effect others around you in both. We’ve heard plenty of stories about how relationships that were only online quickly turned to offline relationships or how infidelity in a video game caused a real world divorce.
It is evident that “real world vs. cyberspace” is really becoming more like “real world = cyberspace”, with a fluid movement between the two that becomes a whole other world that is different from how we view our “real world.” We are just beginning to reconcile between the two, and we still have much time, discussion, experimentation, and thoughts regarding it and how (or if) we should behave and be controlled in cyberspace and how to change it.
When you log on to the Internet, where do you go? Since you are reading my blog, I’ll assume that you do get on at least occasionally to fairly regularly. Besides my awesome blog (*shameless self-promotion*), what other sites do you go to? How long do you spend on those sites?
If you are a frequenter of cyberspace, I’m guessing you check your email, which might lead you to other links of funny videos, news reports, etc. Then, maybe you go on Facebook or Twitter, or your other favorite social media outlet of choice, and from there you might also be led to more funny videos, news articles, links to other sites, etc. shared with you by your friends. Perhaps you have several favorite blogs or YouTube channels that you catch up on that discuss things that interest you, which again might lead you to other places in the World Wide Web that you might like. Maybe you have to do some online shopping, so you get on Amazon.com or your search engine of choice to do a search for the particular item you are looking for, and most often (and especially on Amazon) you’ll find your item and others like it along with other items people like you also purchased with that item.
As creatures of habit, many of us have a routine that we follow when we log online. For me, I log on to MSN.com, browse through their main slideshow of random news topics, headlines, and interest pieces (if anything interests me, I open it in another tab to read later), log in to Hotmail to check my email (deleting, responding, and opening links in new tabs as necessary), go to Google to log in and check my Gmail (again deleting, responding, and opening links), and then I go to Facebook and Tumblr (browsing and commenting etc.), read all of those tabs I had opened (or glance at if I have since lost interest in reading it), and then back to Google where it is now my own iGoogle page with things I like on it.
This is my daily routine when I get online. And as you can tell, most of what I have picked for myself has been things that I like, that I find an interest in, and that apply to me. I have found an increasingly easy ability to personalize my Internet experience, as I’m sure you have found to be true for yourself as well.
However, through the ever increasing personalization of the Internet, we continue to remove ourselves from the majority and create fragmentations in our society—a very dangerous outcome according to Cass R. Sunstein in Republic.com 2.0. In it he describes all of the dangers to freedom and government that can come about if we continue to create niche markets for ourselves. Because in order to maintain a strong democracy we must have the following:
First, people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance. Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself…. Second, many or most citizens should have a range of common experiences. Without shared experiences, a heterogeneous society will have a much more difficult time in addressing social problems. (p. 5-6)
If we continue to personalize our communication, we will not be exposed to differing opinions and unanticipated arguments that we need to progress and cause change. Likewise, if we do have common experiences between us, we will not have common ground with which to start a basis for action. Sunstein argues that
When society is fragmented in this way, diverse groups will tend to polarize in a way that can breed extremism and even hatred and violence. New technologies, emphatically including the Internet, are dramatically increasing people’s ability to hear echoes of their own voices and to wall themselves off from others (p. 44).
While we have found this to be true in some cases—that we are echoing our own opinions and beliefs when we continue to only associate with those that are of the same opinions and beliefs and continuing to create extremes (Tea Party, anyone?)—I think Sunstein is all too reluctant to point out that meeting with people of the same opinion is not inherently dangerous and to be avoided (Civil Rights movement, anyone?). I understand he wants to make us aware and cautious of how we use the Internet and the resources there in, but I’m not sure we will ever receive a fully personalized Internet/communication/media experience. I realize I can’t predict the future and I may be having to change my tune, but while we associate with things we like on the Internet, we will always come across unplanned and unanticipated things because (luckily) we are not all the same. While we might have similar views, there are still things we’ll disagree on. AND because we still live on Earth, there are things we’ll still experience together, be it locally, nationally, or globally.
Of course there are risks to government with the Internet (as there are with any new technology and media), but we can still experience what Sunstein is afraid we’ll lose because of it: unplanned encounters and shared experiences. And by finding, through the Internet, those that are of the same opinion, which Sunstein fears might result in an echo chamber that causes nothing but extremism and violence, people can ban together to promote or protest a cause or policy. It is not only through a shared experience but through a shared belief that movements and activism can be brought about. While the dangers exist, I’m not sure we can fully fear them nor fully avoid them, and like Sunstein says “the Internet is hardly an enemy here. It holds out far more promise than risk” (p. 222). How those promises will be realized will depend on us.
While we can continually customize our Internet experience to our preferences, we cannot customize our friends and associations on the Internet to be exactly how we want them to be. Because of that we still have the ability to be confronted with opposing views and unanticipated articles that we can then share and discuss with others, through which freedom and democracy can continue to progress.
Besides, we all know Amazon has some pretty crazy recommendations that we wouldn’t expect:
I won’t claim that the Internet is the final frontier, space has a claim on that one (yay Treker joke!), but it’s definitely a strange new world that we have become increasingly unsure how to regulate, manage, and govern. The main reason for this is the vastness of the Internet, which makes it that much harder to govern since it can’t fit into our normal parameters of how we govern nations.
Milton Mueller describes five ways that the Internet differs (and in turn puts pressure on) the nation-state in Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance as ” it globalizes the scope of communication; … it facilitates a quantum jump in the scale of communication; … it distributes control; … it grew new institutions; … and “it changes the polity. As a result, radically new forms of collaboration, discourse, and organization are emerging. This makes it possible to mobilize new transnational policy networks that enables new forms of governance as a solution to some of the problems of Internet governance itself” (p. 4-5). The problem is in trying to find what those transnational policies should be.
Because the Internet reaches a vast majority of people in a short amount of time, it makes it difficult to regulate it based on the rules we have in place to regulate people. In our real world, everyone is in their own country with are rules in place that govern those people, and there are other laws in place when those people want to travel to other countries. But, with the Internet, if someone accesses a website in England, but the servers for that site are in the United States and in Canada, it makes it difficult for people to control and govern that website and its information because the contact to the website is spread out between three different countries.
Mueller points out a key fact to keep in mind when it comes to creating policies:
In analyzing and pursuing the global politics of Internet governance, we must be aware of the revolutionary potential of the new social relations fostered by the Internet and digital media; but at the same time we must be unblinkingly realistic about the political, legal, institutional, economics, and cultural forces that shape and constrain any changes (p. 5).
We find ourselves at a dilemma. We live in both the real and online world, and as citizens of both, we expect the rules and governance policies to be interchangeable between both. This, however, is not the case. The policies that we have in place to govern us in the real world cannot be enforced as easily or just simply don’t fit with cyberspace. Just as our previous ideas in regards to activism, social change, and service have changed in the digital world, leading to other problems like clicktivism, so does our previous policies of governance.
Mueller illustrates an example of how the British Internet Watch Foundation enacted a traditional policy (of blocking access to something potentially illegal) to the Internet back-fired. It attempted to block a Wikipedia entry, but ended up blocking (or not blocking at all) the entire site, a site whose servers are in the United States. Who rightfully had control over that information? Or did anyone? It’s a very complicated issue, but one that Mueller demands a new translational solution to. We can’t expect our old ways of governance to work on the Internet, but I do agree with Mueller that “we need to find ways to translate classical liberal rights and freedoms into a governance framework suitable for the global Internet” (p. 271).
Maybe we should ask Spock what to do.
Last week I discussed how I would like to use my connections in my social network as a way to prove that if you get enough people in your network involved in a cause, it will then influence others more distant from you to also be involved. I still think this is an important point in trying to understand how we can fight against our clicktivist tendencies; if our friends and friends’ friends are participating in service projects and contributing to charities, most likely we will too. The problem I have come to find is if you and your network are already leaning toward slacktivism, how do you change it? It might be easy to transition from an activist attitude to a slactivist one through laziness (or just stay as one), but is it just as easy to switch back? How do you get your network to influence each other and other networks to provide service or cause change?
I believe the answer is finding a common goal or value in your network that will cause them to unite to bring about this change.
In a reading for another class, I came across a project that was done in 2008 in Estonia. A few people realized that there was a great deal of waste all over the country that was a result from illegal dumping. As described on their website the friends “realized that the roots of the massive illegal dumping habit lie in the lack of responsibility on every level. Things needed to get turned around for the better.” Instead of trying to report the illegal dumping or just cleaning up one spot, they decided that they needed the help of everyone: media, private corporations, fellow volunteers, and the government. What they did to get everyone united was simple: patriotism for their own country of Estonia.
Once they had a plan set out of how they would go about cleaning up their country and enacting policies to keep it clean (through the help of their government), “on 3rd of May 2008 more than 50,000 people and hundreds of organizations together cleaned more than 10,000 tons of illegal garbage from the territory of Estonia.” In one day, they accomplished what “under normal circumstances it would have taken the government 3 years and 22.5 million euros to accomplish” (Wikipedia entry).
And Estonia’s project has proven my point about networks because it has influenced other countries surrounding them to do the same, and they have created a website where people can have their own clean up days for their respective countries. The hope and main idea, as they express on their site, is that “it’s really not only about removing trash from the forests, where it has been piled up for years, around the globe. It’s just the first stage of clean-up. What’s more important is the hope we give to people that once we are united into that kind of action the vibe would spread and the hope will arise. The hope, that we can clean up the oceans, too. The hope, that the governments and industries will follow and that the green transformation of our economy will take place. Perhaps, in the process of uniting our efforts, we’ll discover that cleaning up around us will strengthen the human inside us and will cleanse us from inside, too.”
In a small enough group or network, I think it would be easy to find a common goal or thread to unite others for a cause: your neighborhood, your church group, your school, which may in turn influence other neighborhoods, schools and churches. It’s when you start making the group larger that it starts to become difficult, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The world has one common thread in us that we can’t deny: we are all human. And personally, I think that’s enough for me.
Just recently (a few hours ago actually), I had a work meeting that I was dreading. It was with some new bosses and none of us really knew what was going to happen, but we all guessed at what would. Since the meeting had been scheduled a few weeks ago, my coworkers and I had been playing out scenarios in our heads and discussing them with each other about what would happen, what would be discussed, and how we would react. We kept talking about all the negative what-if situations we could, only making us dread the coming meeting more and more. It had gotten to the point where we had talked about what would happen so much that we were convinced, that’s what was going to happen. I tend to do this in other situations also, think of the worse-case scenarios so that when it actually pans out and turns out better than that, I’ll be relieved and pleasantly surprised, or if it is like a worse-case scenario, I’ll have at least have expected that so I was prepared. In a way, this is for my own protection to preserve myself from any increased trauma.
Apparently what I’ve been doing is premediating my own future according to Richard Grusin, much like our current media premediates future traumatic events in the wake of 9/11. In Grusin’s book Premediation: affect and mediality after 9/11, he points out:
[T]he media’s preoccupation with premediating the future strives to maintain a low level of anxiety among the American public in order to protect them from experiencing the immediacy of another catastrophe like 9/11.
If the premediation that Grusin discusses is true, that we are in fact in a constant low state of anxiety because of premediation, is this why it is harder and harder to get people to take what they see and do something about it, i.e., stray away from clicktivism?
Most people need something shocking or traumatic to happen to them or a loved one, or even in general, to be able to become passionate enough about something to act on it. If we have been conditioned through media to always have the future present through premediation, in theory, if something does happen, it is expected and we’ve prepared for it, so there’s no need to act on anything. Perhaps this is why clicktivism has increased, not just because of the progression of the Internet and technology, but because of the ever-increasing premediation of traumatic events, or both.
If nothing is every shocking to us, there will be no reason to take a stand against or for or in support of it. Premediation might be protecting us, much like parents protect their children, but we’re all adults here, and sometimes we need that traumatic event so that we can grow up more and realize who we are and what we are willing to sacrifice and do for ourselves and others. Premediation instead is desensitizing ourselves to our own detriment, and we need to become sensitive again so that we can be incited to act.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, my meeting today went fine and was not as bad as I thought it would be. Yay!
While searching on the Internet of articles that could help me in my quest to combat the ever-increasing disease of slacktivism, I came across the following “How To” article by mashable (click here). Amazed that there was already a how- to article on the subject and thinking that perhaps my idea and project to come up with ways to make people overcome their slacktivist tendencies would be completely unnecessary, I immediately had to read through this article. After reading it, I came to the conclusion that my project was still a worthy one to pursue because although it makes valid points, I wouldn’t say it’s comprehensive by any means.
The article does a good job of pointing things in the right direction in regards to getting slacktivists to become activists by using various social media tools and techniques, but I think it also babies those slacktivist people in the fact that it remarks that when ready will blossom into people ready to march and protest whatever you want. I find it interesting that someone in the article mentioned that you need to just use slactivists to spread news for you since they won’t be willing to actually do anything:
But the fastest way to lose slacktivists is to ask them [to do] what they hate doing the most — getting off their butt and [doing] something. My advice? Send out great content targeted at recruiting more fundraisers and driving people to donate, and empower the slacktivists to spread the word for you.
This might be good at first with some, but I think this is letting them get off easy. There are far too many people that are willing to just spread the news along than actually do something with that news. We’ve gotten to the point where the slacktivists outweigh the activists, and there has to be a point where we decide we’ll stop babying these people and actually incite them to do something in the real world that they see online. While I agree you don’t want to force them, as the article points out, you do need something that will give them the chance or expectation that they will do more with the information you have given them than just passing it along.
While I disagree somewhat with some of the points the article makes, I still think it is a step in the right direction. I will say though, the best point that was made in the article was to change our attitude and opinion in regards to slacktivists. While I use the term a great deal in my blog, it is to connote a certain attitude we have developed as a society in regards to online political and societal engagements. However, perhaps, I too need to change my attitude and stop thinking of people as slacktivists. I’ll admit, slacktivist is easier to write out every time than “potential activist,” so I might slip up and not write that. But, I do agree that if we think of others as slacktivists right from the start, that’s all they will ever be:
As Edmund Burke once said, ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’ Because small steps can lead to bigger steps, being critical of small steps serves no good. It simply disenfranchises folks.
I firmly believe that if we have higher expectations for people, they will often meet or exceed these expectations, but the lower our expectations, the less effort others will have in trying to exceed them. It’s time to step it up, and if that means changing our attitude and no longer thinking of people as slacktivists, I’m all for it.
I am hopeful these potential activists will live up to the term.
It is only recently with the increasing embrace of technology and the Internet that slacktivism has started to flourish. Maybe we’ve always had a tendency to be lazy, but with the Internet we can pretend we are being efficient and doing something to affect the world at large. However, in all reality, we haven’t really done anything but sign a few online petitions or go to some charity websites or pages. After all it’s easier to do if it’s just a click away.
Megan Boler addresses this issue in her book Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times about why we lean on the Internet more and more to be our tool for activism:
Today many North Americans spend hours commuting to work. Life is work. We are fighting off the onslaught of information and it is not just the disappearing public sphere that makes true political engagement difficult. In the United States, people work endless hours. How do you squeeze in activism in this precarious situation? The Internet makes it in many ways easier to engage (p. 357).
So we’re tired. We work to make money so we can afford to survive, and sometimes we just don’t have enough time, energy, or resources to also participate in organizations that require us to act on something. The Internet then allows us to easily “participate” in these groups and organizations, find out more about them, perhaps donate or organize (as is pointed out later in the book), all within the comfort of our home with us only exercising our fingers. But here is where our tendency to be slackers comes to play because often all that we do comes to a stop online and doesn’t go past or spill into the real world.
As Boler mentions (via criticis), “activism in virtual worlds… only detracts from real life activism. Entering Camp Darfur in [Second Life] users may have something like a cathartic experience that leaves them with the impression that they have actually done something about the issues when in fact they were simply sucked into computer screens for hours” (p. 361).
We click on a few pages, read some information online about the organization, feel good about ourselves for becoming more informed, or perhaps we donated some money via PayPal, and then call it done. So often, however, organizations (both political and non-profit) need support in real life, more than just online. We need to find a way that gets more people to take what they find or see online, and bring it on the streets to cause real change. It is possible and it has happened, but it shouldn’t be such a rare occurrence as it is now.
We must find ways to combat slacktivism so that people can do more than just click on some websites to really make a difference in the world. It’s okay to find out more information and donate online, but it’s time to do something more; “it’s time for complexities and radical hybridity” (p. 361). There must be a way to use the Internet and still create social change and do good in real life as well, to help people still have time and energy to be activists and still be working adults.
Let’s start by getting rid of Mondays. Who wants to create the online petition?